Who is OKC's major key to success in the playoffs?
By Suave Francisco
Finally, the NBA playoffs are here. It's the time of the year we've been looking forward to for a long time considering this time last year the Oklahoma City Thunder players and fans were sitting at home watching the Golden State Warriors waltz through the Western Conference, and the Cleveland Cavaliers for an NBA title. A year later, things look very similar, Golden State still ran through the entire conference with no problem, coming off the best regular season in NBA history, and the San Antonio Spurs are right behind them, almost winning 70 games as well. The only major difference this season is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now we all know last year was a fluke, with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka missing time due to injury and Kevin Durant missing the majority of the season due to a nagging foot injury too. In result of that, they finished tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with the New Orleans Pelicans, who held the tiebreaker over OKC and got the privilege of playing the Warriors in the first round...and we all know how that ended.
This year is different, though, with Oklahoma City finishing the regular season with a (55-27) record, and peaking at the perfect time. Role players are starting to contribute, and the core of the team, (Russell, KD, and Serge) is 100 percent healthy. However, to win a championship you must have a strong supporting cast, which they've had...in spurts. There are two players that this specifically pertains to and those players are Enes Kanter and Anthony Morrow.
Well, why not? He's a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award, he averages 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in just 21 minutes per game. Not to mention, he's just 23 years old. He gives Billy Donovan immediate offense off the bench, and he's a double-double machine leading all players off the bench in double-doubles. Last year, before "the big contract," Oklahoma City fans loved Enes when it came to putting the ball in the basket and collecting rebounds, but weren't too fond of his defense. Neither was coach Donovan, and that's the reason Steven Adams got the start over Kanter at the season's beginning. Now, his defense still isn't great, nor is it as good as Adams', but it's not deplorable like last season, into the beginning of this season. He's shown improvement throughout the year, he doesn't get embarrassed in the post as much and that should be good enough for him to get some extra time off the bench, or possibly start in front of Serge Ibaka during the playoffs.
Oh yeah, in case you haven't noticed, Serge has been very inconsistent this year. It may be time to make a change.
Anthony Morrow's only major problem is the same as Kanter...lack of defense. His defense is a different type of bad too. Most players that struggle with defense only struggle because their court awareness is off, or they simply don't work as hard on the defensive end. He honestly appears to try just as hard on the defensive end as he does on the offensive end, but his problem is a lack of speed. Depending on the lineup, though, he could be very beneficial for the team's success offensively, against a high-powered offensive team like Golden State when the situation's right. Morrow only averages 5.6 points in just 13 minutes per game, but his shooting can't go unnoticed, and you can't have a career 42.3 percent 3-point shooter on the bench throughout the playoffs, and Donovan can't place him in the game at random times for five minutes and expect him to get into a rhythm. Increase his minutes to about 20-minutes per game in the playoffs, along with Cameron Payne, who averages 12 minutes per game. Just distribute Kyle Singler's 14 minutes per game evenly between Payne and Morrow. That would leave Singler with essentially no floor time, and that may be the best thing to do going into the toughest stretch of the year.
This team looks very good, playing their best basketball at the right time. Although Golden State and San Antonio are having unbelievable seasons, we've proven that we can beat the Spurs and hang with the Warriors. With a little tweaking of the lineup, and a little prayer that the Warriors are tired from chasing the 1995-1996 Bulls record, we should be able to get over that hump and ultimately beat the Warriors in the Western Conference finals...hopefully.